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Hardliner Editor Blasts Rouhani For Suggesting Iran Make ‘Peace With The Enemy'

Maryam Sinaee

The editor of hardline newspaper Kayhan on Thursday attacked President Hassan Rouhani for an implied suggestion of “peace with the enemy” based on the “will of the majority.”

“This is not the first time that the President distorts the facts of history,” Hossein Shariatmadari charged, alleging the president misused analogies to “justify the public opinion about the goals and performance of his administration.”

Shariatmadari - who has edited Kayhan for 27 years as an appointee of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader - was alarmed at a suggestion from Rouhani at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting that Imam Hassan, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad and the second Shia Imam, had made peace in 661 AD with the Ummayyad Caliph Muawiyah I based on the wish of the “majority of the people.”

“It is clear that Mr Rouhani’s discussion of Imam Hassan’s peace is related to the fate of nuclear talks,” Shariatmadari explained. “He has tried to appropriate Imam Hassan’s peace but avoid the treachery of some close associates and commanders of the army in this imposed peace.”

Shariatmadari wondered if forgetting such treachery was intentional, given “compromise as a means to achieve economic prosperity for the country was a destructive mistake.” The Kayhan editor was a trenchant critic of talks leading to the 2015 nuclear agreement, two years into Rouhani’s presidency, under which Iran agreed with world powers to limit its nuclear program in return for eased international sanctions.

Rouhani had told the cabinet on Wednesday that Imam Hassan had chosen peace after realizing that the vast majority of people wanted peace. “Imam Hassan teaches us to be a man of war at the time of war and a man of peace at the time of peace,” the president said. “We must stand and take up arms when necessary and make peace when necessary.”

In Iran, the “peace of Imam Hassan” is evoked to justify concessions. Decision on such matters lie with Khamenei, so there can be little doubt Rouhani’s analogy was for his ears. Rouhani appears to have been offering a veiled response to allegations of cowardice made by Khamenei a day earlier that many felt were directed against the president.

“Cowards are not entitled to speak of rationality because rationality means correct calculations,” Khamenei had said at a military graduation ceremony on October 12. “The enemy is trying to insinuate a wrong description of rationality and some people in the country ignorantly repeat the enemy’s words.”

The president and Khamenei have clashed in public before. In May 2016 they disagreed over the teaching of English in schools, which Khamenei does not support.

But Khamenei himself in 2013 evoked Imam Hassan to justify international talks over Iran’s nuclear program. “I believe in what was dubbed as ‘heroic flexibility’ years ago,” he said in a speech to Revolutionary Guard commanders. “A wrestler who for technical reasons makes a concession should not forget who his rival and enemy is.”

‘Heroic Flexibility’ was an allusion to a book on Imam Hassan and his famous peace that Khamenei had written years before becoming Leader. Drawing the analogy helped Khamenei calm those like Shariatmadari who opposed concessions to Western countries and particularly the United States.

Imam Hassan’s younger brother Hussain, the third Imam, went to war with Muawiyah’s son Yazid I a few years later and was killed along with his 72 disciples in Karbala in 680. To Shiites his death is just as glorious and heroic as any victory.

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